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LAKE COUNTY, FLORIDA: THE GROVELAND FOUR

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LAKE COUNTY, FLORIDA: THE GROVELAND FOUR

Gary Corsair

Gary Corsair

Gary Corsair

Ghlezian Gonzales, Staff Writer

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“Nearly 70 years after four black men were wrongly convicted of kidnapping and raping a young white housewife in Groveland, Florida, the state’s clemency board unanimously voted on Friday to have them pardoned.” –New York Times

THE ALLEGED CRIME

On July of 1949, 17 year-old Caucasian Norma Padgett accused four African American men, Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin, Earnest Thomas, and Charles Greenlee, of beating and raping her. Willie Padgett, her husband, told authorities that their car broke down and the four men offered to help, but instead attacked him and drove off with his wife.

Greenlee, Irvin, and Shepherd were instantly caught and incarcerated. Thomas, on the other hand, fled the country. Lake County’s Sheriff McCall and his crew chased him 200 miles northeast. Thomas was eventually found and shot over a hundred times.

News quickly spread of the three African American criminals, and a mob of about 600 citizens organized outside the county jail. They demanded that law enforcement should let the three men be turned over to them as a form of instant justice.

However, things took a turn for the worse. With the belligerent posse of Lake County unable to retrieve the three men, they decided to target Grovelanda widely-known individual, said to be in the center of Black activity in the area. 

The posse shot into people’s homes, burned buildings, and set up blockades in nearby highways to terrorize unsuspecting Blacks.

After over 48 hours of chaos, Governor Fuller Warren decided to call the National Guard. Order was restored within six days.

THE DAY OF THE TRIAL

The men were brought to court upon an all white jury. It was reported that Norma was using the men as a way to cover up the domestic abuse she received from her husband, who was warned by her parents not to hit her. Evidence clearly indicated that Irvin and Shepherd were in Orlando while Greenlee was 20 miles away from the reported scene. Regardless of these happenings, the jury only took 90 minutes to decide their fate. Irvin and Shepherd were given the death sentence and Greenlee, who was merely 16 at the time, was sentenced to life in prison.

The trial made its way to the United States Supreme Court, who unanimously overturned the convictions of Irvin and Sheppard.

A SECOND CHANCE

During November, 1951, McCall was responsible for transporting Irvin and Shepherd to the city of Tavares, where they would receive a retrial. During the nighttime trip, it was reported that McCall went to check the tires when the two men attempted to subjugate him, forcing the sheriff to pull out his gun and shoot. Shepherd was instantly killed and Irvin, however, chose to play dead. While he was bleeding out on the ground, he heard the sheriff boast into his radio, “I got rid of them; killed the sons of bitches.” A deputy who arrived at the scene discovered that Irvin was still alive, bringing McCall to fire another shot at the prisoner, which he missed. He fired again and landed a bullet in Irvin’s neck.

Irvin miraculously lived despite not being able to be transported to the hospital via an ambulance because he was Black. He eventually went on to face the retrial alone, this time represented by Thurgood Marshall. Again convicted guilty and facing the death sentence, Irvin was scheduled an execution. In 1955, he would be saved by the political system due to the election of more lenient Leroy Collins, who took the position as Florida’s new governor.

Irvin was granted life in prison with parole.

ALL THAT REMAINS:

Greenlee was paroled in 1962 and Irvin was released just 6 years later. He moved to Miami but eventually returned to visit Lake County, where he would die due to natural causes.

Greenlee, with good reason, never came back to Florida. He died in 2012 at the virtuous age of 78.  

“In 2017, the state of Florida formally apologized to the families of the Groveland Four.”

PRESENT DAY

Unfortunately, the hardships and injustices these men endured can still be seen in today’s news. Many African Americans have been wrongly accused, incarcerated, and beaten into submission the same way they have been for years, even 70 years after the misfortune of the Groveland Four. This being said, progress has been made, but the fight still continues in the name of fairness and equity in America.

It is important to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and continue his work for justice and equality, not only on the designated holiday, but every day of the year.

 

 

Sources:

 

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LAKE COUNTY, FLORIDA: THE GROVELAND FOUR